In most years, a president’s filing of his financial disclosure forms with the Office of Government Ethics isn’t exactly headline news. But for Donald Trump, who faces a deadline for filing the forms today, even this routine annual paperwork has become the focus of intense public and media scrutiny. Why?
The reason can be summed up in two words: Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen admitted earlier this year that he paid the AVN Hall of Famer $130,000 in hush money just days before the 2016 presidential election, to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter she had with Trump 10 years earlier. Trump initially denied knowing anything about the payment.
But that all changed two weeks ago when Trump’s newest attorney and public spokesperson, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, did a round of TV interviews in which he stated that Trump did, in fact, reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 expenditure to Daniels. And Giuliani took it one step further. He spelled out the precise schedule of repayments from Trump to Cohen, “acknowledging that Trump agreed to give Cohen $35,000 per month starting early in 2017, which continued throughout the year,” according to a Washington Post account.
And in a May 3 posting to his Twitter account, Trump himself admitted that he reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payoff.
As a result, Trump must now list those payments to Cohen on his financial disclosure forms—the same forms also due from 25,000 other executive branch officials Tuesday—because federal law requires those officials to disclose any debt (other than one owed to an immediate family member) that exceeds $10,000.
UPDATE: Shortly before 6:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the Office of Government Ethics announced that Trump had filed his financial disclosure form. However, the OGE said that the forms were “under review,” so what the forms contain or reveal was not yet made public.
As explained in a USA Today op-ed piece Monday co-authored by former government ethics chief Walter Shaub, there are no “loopholes” that could let Trump wriggle free of his legal obligation to disclose the payment to Daniels. Even claiming that the reimbursements were made not by himself but by his business, the Trump Organization, would not work because:
• Cohen has flatly denied that the Trump Organization was involved with the Daniels payoff in any way.
• Corporations have been banned from making contributions to political candidates since 1907.
“Today’s the day! No more sleep until the President’s financial disclosure report is due,” Shaub posted to his own Twitter feed on Tuesday morning. “He must finally come clean about his debt to Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payment ... and any others. There are no loopholes.”
Trump’s only possible way out of disclosing the Daniels payment would be to make another 180-degree turn and claim that both he and Giuliani were lying when they said that Cohen was reimbursed for the payment to Daniels. Last week, Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, posted information about a series of payments totaling $500,000 funneled to Cohen by a financial firm closely tied to Russian billionaire oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Avenatti suggested that the Russian money may have been used to reimburse Cohen. But effectively admitting that Avenatti was correct about Russian money being used to pay back Cohen for the Daniels hush money would carry its own set of danegrous complications for Trump.
Trump did not list any such payments to Cohen or Daniels on his 2017 disclosure forms, which may be downloaded from this link.
As of 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, May 15, there were no reports that Trump had filed his required 2018 financial disclosure forms—nor did the Office of Ethics in Government issue any statement saying that Trump had requested an extension on Tuesday’s deadline.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons / ABC TV Screen Capture